Great Walks offers top tips on how to handle hikers knee – because sometime or another we’re all going to experience it.
It doesn’t matter if you’re doing a local day walk or taking on something mammoth like the Camino de Santiago, knee pain will to turn a beautiful day out into a nightmare.
And unfortunately, it is an incredibly common issue for hikers. If you ever experienced this, chances are you have done some research on how to stop it. But more than likely you have come across the same advice I did… “Use a knee brace”, “tape up your knee” or “get some orthotics”. And while these things can help in the short term, they are only really a band aid solution.
Unfortunately, they don't do anything to fix the underlying issues. The second you stop using them, the pain comes back. And then you are stuck in a never-ending loop… But there a solution for this! Here is a three-step plan to help prevent hiker's knee on the track.
Mobility One of the biggest contributors to knee pain is restricted movement in certain muscles. This is usually caused by a combination of the strains of modern living as well as the demands of whatever exercise you might be doing. The issue here is that for the knee to work best, it has to remain stable.
However, if the joints both above and below the knee do not have enough movement, the body will compensate by allowing more movement through the knee joint. This is not a good thing! In order for the knees to stay safe, stable and pain free, you must ensure that the ankles and the hips have sufficient range of motion. This is best done through regular:
- Foam rolling to ‘release’ the muscles
- Static stretching to ‘lengthen’ the muscles
- Completing specific warm up routines, before hiking and training, to prepare these muscles for exercise
Stability Traditionally weights have been overlooked by hikers around the world. And there are a lot of myths around strength training that do not seem to go away. Things like 'weights will make me bulky' or 'weights are bad for your joints' are things that I hear every day. But the simple fact is; a well thought out and applied strength training program is the very best thing for preventing knee pain.
When the stabilising muscles of the knee are not strong enough, they will fatigue prematurely. This will prevent the knees from staying stable and secure, which will lead to more movement in the knee joint. This makes the joint take a lot more strain then it should and will lead to pain. In order to stabilise the joint and protect the knees, the glutes, quadriceps and hamstrings need to be strengthened.
Great exercises for this include:
- Glute bridges
- Mini Band Walks
- Step downs
- Single leg deadlifts
Use Trekking Poles Multiple studies have shown that they can significantly reduce the amount of force the knee takes while walking downhill. They have also been shown to help improve movement economy while going uphill. This will contribute to preventing knee pain by minimising fatigue and helping the stabilising muscles stay active for longer. And finally, trekking poles are very effective at improving balance. So it will minimise the risk of slips and falls which often put a huge amount of strain through the knees. I highly recommend you buy some and use them.
How to perform the glute bridge.
- Lay flat on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor (semi supine position)
- Flatten your back on the ground before you lift – “Pull your belly button down.”
- Brace your core
- Shins should be in a vertical position
- Drive hips and chest up at the same time, finishing as shown in photo B above.
- Squeeze your glutes at the top of the movement and hold.
Repeat this exercise for two sets of 10 repetitions with a 5-second isometric hold at the top of the movement. Actively engaging your glutes at the peak of the contraction will ensure that you avoid any hyperextension (excessive backward movement of your thigh) and increase the neural drive to your glutes.
Words_ Rowan Smith, founder of Summit Strength summitstrength.com.au